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21.09.2021 Europe

Belgian artist Jan Fabre to face trial on charges of sexual harassment

By RFI
© AFP/Louisa Gouliamaki
LISTEN SEP 21, 2021
© AFP/Louisa Gouliamaki

Belgian choreographer and sculptor Jan Fabre, one of Europe's most celebrated and controversial contemporary artists, will face trial next year on charges of sexual harassment and indecent assault, a court ruled Tuesday after three years of investigations.

The criminal tribunal in the city of Antwerp said the case would be heard over two days on 25 March and 1 April 2022.

The 62-year-old choreographer, visual artist and theatre director Jan Fabre -- known for his provocative performances -- faces up to five years in jail over allegations of "violence, harassment or sexual harassment" against 12 employees, and one count of indecent assault.

The case stems from complaints by 20 dancers from his Antwerp-based Troubleyn company who in 2018, in the wake of the #metoo movement, alleged suffering years of humiliation and sexual harassment.

His principle was "no sex, no solo", as one of the co-signatories (mostly women) summarised the working environment in an open letter published by the Dutch-language specialist magazine rekto:verso.

Toxic work atmosphere

The former employees described a toxic atmosphere where sexual acts became an exchange for performance time and where "humilation was our daily bread".

Among other accusations, they allege that Jan Fabre invited artists to his home under the pretext of preparing performances, but would then attempt a "sexual approach".

Some staff were offered a substantial sum after these invitations, with those who refused the money seeing their status in the group suffer.

They alleged several acts of humiliation and sexual intimidation, including "semi-secret" photographic sessions in which dancers were singled out with offers of money and urged to take drugs to "feel more free".

Fabre has defended himself, insisting when the complaints first emerged that "it was never my intention to intimidate or hurt people psychologically or sexually".

Three years of investigations

But prosecutors referred the case for trial in June after three years of investigations.

Fabre's lawyer Eline Tritsmans said "the image given of him in the media does not correspond to reality".

Fabre has been increasingly shunned by the art community as the trial looms.

A show by his dance troupe scheduled for later this year in Belgium has been cancelled and an Antwerp museum has removed one of his sculptures.

(With AFP)

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